Washington: A new research has demonstrated that infants can detect whether a person's emotions are justifiable given a particular context, as early as 18 months.
Psychology researchers Sabrina Chiarella and Diane Poulin-Dubois of Concordia University proved that babies understand how the meaning of an experience is directly linked to the expressions that follow.
"Our research shows that babies cannot be fooled into believing something that causes pain results in pleasure. Adults often try to shield infants from distress by putting on a happy face following a negative experience. But babies know the truth: as early as 18 months, they can implicitly understand which emotions go with which events," Dubois said.
To perform the research, she and PhD candidate Chiarella recruited 92 infants at the 15 and 18-month mark. In a lab setting, the babies watched as an actor went through several scenarios in which emotional reactions went with or against pantomimed experiences.
In one scenario, the researcher showed a mismatched emotion by being sad when presented with a desired toy. In another, she expressed an emotion that went with the experience by reacting in pain when pretending to hurt her finger.
At 15 months, the infants did not show a significant difference in reactions to these events, while at 18 months, the infants clearly detected when facial expressions did not match the experience.
They spent more time looking at the researcher's face and checked back more frequently with the caregiver in the room with them so that they could gauge the reaction of a trusted source.
They also showed empathy toward the person only when her sad face was justified; that is, only when the researcher was sad or in pain when she was supposed to be.
The study is published in the journal Infancy.